Yavapai (Native Americans of the Southwest)

Yavapai from the Mojave Enyaeva Pai, "People of the Sun." They are sometimes confused with the Apaches, as a result of their long association together, and are occasionally (and erroneously) referred to as Mojave Apaches or Yuma Apaches.

Location Traditionally, the Yavapai controlled roughly 10 million acres in present-day west-central Arizona. This transitional area between the Colorado Plateau and the lower deserts provided them with a salubrious mixture of desert, mountain, and plateau plants and animals. Today, Yavapai Indians live on the Fort McDowell, the Camp Verde, and the Yavapai Reservations, Arizona.

Population In 1992 there were approximately 1,550 enrolled Yavapais on the three reservations. Resident population in 1990 was as follows: Six hundred and forty lived at Fort McDowell, 650 lived at Camp Verde, 130 lived at Prescott, and some lived off-reservation. Roughly 1,500 Yavapai lived in their area in 1500.

Language Yavapais spoke a dialect (similar to Pai) of Upland Yuman, a Hokan-Siouan language (though culturally and historically the Yavapai were more closely related to the Tonto Apache).

Historical Information

History The nomadic Yavapai were probably descended from the ancient Hakataya peoples.

In the nineteenth century, the Yavapai scouted for the U.S. Army against the Chiricahua Apaches. This scout wears an officer's coat, helmet, and sword in a commercial studio portrait taken in Wyoming Territory circa 1881.

In the nineteenth century, the Yavapai scouted for the U.S. Army against the Chiricahua Apaches. This scout wears an officer’s coat, helmet, and sword in a commercial studio portrait taken in Wyoming Territory circa 1881.

Traditionally they consisted of four major divisions: the Kewevkapaya (southeastern), the Wipukpaya (northeastern), the Tolkepaye (western), and the Yavepe (central). Each was further divided into local bands.

Contact between the Spanish and the Yavapais occurred in 1582. After Father Francisco Garces lived with them in 1776, contact became more frequent. Nevertheless the Yavapais lived traditionally until the 1850s, largely because their country was too rough for the Spaniards, Mexicans, or Americans. Some bands, especially the Kewevkapaya, raided with the Apaches. After the Mexican cession, more non-Indian travelers and miners frequented the region, although the Yavapai tried to avoid conflict, owing primarily to their poor weaponry.

Gold was discovered in 1863. Shortly thereafter the frontier arrived and brought the permanent disruption of Yavapai traditional life. Hungry and under continuous attack, the Yavapai fought back. In 1872-1873, General George Crook’s bloody Tonto Basin campaign against the Tonto Apaches and Yavapais (won with a heavy reliance on Pai scouts) ended with a massacre of Yavapais. Forced onto the Camp Verde reservation after disease had killed an additional one-third of their number, the Yavapai and Tonto Apaches dug a 5-mile irrigation ditch using discarded army tools and brought in a good harvest. For this they were forcibly relocated (again) in 1875 and settled with the Apaches on the San Carlos Reservation, 180 miles to the east. Many died or were killed on the "March of Tears" (within 25 years, their population fell from 1,500 to 200).

At San Carlos the Yavapai again tried farming. They also scouted for the army against the Chiricahua Apaches and acquired cattle. However, flooding ruined their ditches, miners and ranchers took their land, and they still wanted to go home. By 1900, most Yavapais had left San Carlos. Some returned to the Verde Valley and some to Forts McDowell and Whipple. In 1903, Fort McDowell became a reservation, inhabited mostly by the Kewevkopaya band. Camp Verde (Weepukapa) reservation was established in 1910, with outlying communities such as Middle Verde, Clarkdale, and Rimrock added during the following 60 years. Fort Whipple became a reservation (Yavapai-Prescott) in 1935. The western Yavapai (Tolkepaye) received no reservation and have nearly disappeared.

The Verde River ran through Fort McDowell. The Yavapai tried farming once again, but they were soon involved in a struggle for water rights. Instead of providing funds to improve irrigation and guard against floods, the government wanted to remove the Yavapai to the Salt River Pima Reservation. Largely owing to the efforts of Carlos Montezuma they were able to remain, but they secured little money or water. During this period cattle grazing and wage work, both on and off the reservation, became important sources of income. From the 1950s through the 1980s, the Yavapai also fought off a dam (Orme) that would have flooded most of the Fort McDowell Reservation, refusing $33 million in compensation. Finally, in 1990, the Yavapai won passage of a law granting them sufficient water rights from the Verde River as well as $25 million in compensatory funds.

Yavapais and Apaches leaving San Carlos settled at Camp Verde around the turn of the century. Camp Verde is more Apache than Yavapai in character. Unable to make a living on the inadequate reservation lands, most people worked in the nearby copper industry until the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1935 a separate reservation, primarily inhabited by the Yavepe band, was created north of Prescott. Rather than organize under the Indian Reorganization Act, this group maintained the traditional governing structure until 1988. Their land base is surrounded by the city of Prescott.

Religion Like other Yumans, veneration of the sun, dream omens, and shamanism were key aspects of Yavapai religion. Knowledge of all kinds was acquired by each person through dreaming. Shamans conducted healing rituals by singing, smoking tobacco, and sucking out bad blood. Some Yavapai rituals included the use of sandpaintings. Singing, dancing, and eagle feathers were part of every ritual, as were certain plants and musical instruments such as rattles, drums, and flutes. "Little people" or spirits living in the mountains were thought to help people. The Yavapai place of emergence was considered to be at Montezuma Well, near Sedona.

Government The closest the Yavapai came to centralized authority was each local group’s "civic leader." This person would orate each morning on proper ideas and behavior. Leadership was based on personal merit (wisdom, personality, and ability in war).

Customs The Yavapai were a nomadic people who followed the ripening of wild foods. Bands camped in groups of up to ten families; winter gatherings were even larger. Elders or group leaders orated each morning from the roof of a hut, instructing people on the proper way to live. Social dances were held on occasion. Until the early 1900s the dead were customarily cremated (the house and possessions were also burned). Polygyny was rare, as was divorce. The Yavapai practiced formal puberty rites for women and men.

Dwellings People lived in caves or dome-shaped huts, framed with poles and covered with brush, thatch, or mud. Other structures included ramadas and sweat lodges.

Diet Mescal was a staple, along with other wild plants such as cactus fruit, mesquite beans, greens, acorns, pinon nuts, walnuts, seeds, and berries. Women gathered wild foods. Game included deer, quail, fox, antelope, and rabbits; people also ate lizards, caterpillars, yellowjacket nests, and turkeys. Small amounts of corn, beans, and squash were grown or traded, mostly by the western band.

Key Technology Tools included bows and arrows, baskets, clubs, buckskin ponchos, grinding stones and other stone tools, throwing sticks, and snares or traps for hunting. Food was boiled in clay pots.

Trade The Yavapai were active traders in a large local trade network. Baskets were the primary currency. They traded mescal and buckskin to the Navajo for blankets and to the Hopi for jewelry. They occasionally obtained corn from the Pima and the O’odham.

Notable Arts Women made pottery, but baskets were one of the most highly developed arts. Color came not from dyes or artificial materials but from the shoots of cottonwood and mulberry trees, the roots of yucca or soapwood, or devil’s claw.

Transportation Women made baskets for carrying goods.

Dress The Yavapai painted their bodies. Ornaments included necklaces, bracelets, and ear and nose rings (especially warriors). Bangs were worn to the eyebrows. Men wore hide breechclouts, leggings, and moccasins, and blankets or skin ponchos in winter (also boots and mittens). Women wore two buckskins draped over a belt and a buckskin top and moccasins (of buckskin or possibly yucca fiber). Some women tattooed their faces. Men dressed the skins for clothing.

War and Weapons Each local group decided for itself whether or nor to join a war. Yavapai traditional enemies included the Pai, Pima, Pee-Posh, and O’odham. Their allies included the Quechan, Mojave, and Apache. Unlike the Apaches, the Yavapais used few guns; instead, they mostly made do with hunting tools to fight the U.S. Army. Other weapons included clubs, hide shields, mulberry bows, and cane arrows with obsidian points. Although they were inclined toward war, they proved to be more flexible than the Apaches regarding change, adaptation, and coexistence.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations Yavapai reservations are at Prescott (1935; almost 1,400 acres), Fort McDowell (1901-1904; almost 25,000 acres; 28 miles northeast of Phoenix), and Camp Verde (1914; 1,092 acres in two sections, shared with the Tonto Apache). At Camp Verde intermarriage has produced a new tribe, the Yavapai-Apaches, organized in 1937. Clarkdale (1969; 60 acres, also shared with the Apache) and Payson (Yavapai and Tonto Apache, 1972; 85 acres) are associated with Camp Verde, which, with Fort McDowell, elects a tribal council.

Economy At Fort McDowell, a gambling establishment brings in much money and provides employment, as does the tribal farm. There is also a large sand and gravel operation and several small businesses. Some people work in surrounding cities and towns, raise stock, or, in a few cases, practice subsistence farming. Under- and unemployment often exceeds 50 percent. A water settlement (1990) provided for both water rights and $25 million in compensatory funds. There is potential for economic development near the Beeline Highway. Some women also produce coiled baskets for the tourist trade.

Verde places most economic hope in tourism associated with Montezuma Castle National Monument; some people also work off-reservation. At Prescott there is an industrial park, a commercial park, a shopping center, a bingo operation, and a hotel complex, and there are plans for a museum. People also raise stock and work off-reservation.

Legal Status The Fort McDowell Mohave-Apache Indian Community, Fort McDowell Band of Mohave Apache Indians, Yavapai-Apache Indian Community, and the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe are all federally recognized tribal entities.

Daily Life Acculturation is well established; the last big Yavapai dance was held in 1924. The language is all but lost. Children attend public schools. Camp Verde is negotiating the purchase of 6,500 additional acres. Some women still make high-quality baskets. The tribes cosponsor Ba’ja days, a cultural celebration. Yavapai-Prescott has also developed a cultural program with a professional staff.

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